Siyar Bahadurzada: Nothing Without Danger

By Tim Leidecker Feb 6, 2008
It is a state of emergency. Buildings of family members and friends have been bombed. There is a constant air-raid warning. Men with machine guns are patrolling the streets.

When you grow up in an environment like this, you realize that war is more than driving around in an M1 Abrams while listening to Drowning Pool's "Bodies."

Siyar Bahadurzada (Pictures) was born in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, in 1984. In the 15 years the Shooto light heavyweight champion lived in his home country, he went through the Soviet war, saw the government collapse and endured three long years of pure anarchy.

"Growing up in Afghanistan made me see the world through a different perspective," the 23-year-old fighter remembers. "It's like a wild jungle, and everyone is trained to be a lion -- except one lion is fiercer than the other. In Afghanistan I grew up with danger. I felt danger every day that I lived there. Nobody knew which bomb, bullet or rocket had your name written on it and when it was going to hit."

In 1999, the Bahadurzada family had enough of Taliban oppression and immigrated to Holland. Surprisingly, it wasn't much of a culture shock for the 15-year-old boy to move from an Islamic state to an open-minded country like the Netherlands.

"I learned a lot in Holland as I am a fast learner," Bahadurzada says. "I was open and ready for the changes in my new life. It was like a new start for me, a new opportunity. I felt like a child who has just been born, but with 15 years of experience."

Even as a boy, it was clear that Bahadurzada was different from other kids, due to not only his childhood but also his ambition.

"I wanted to make something out of my life," he explains. "I wanted to be someone. I always felt different from other kids when I was young because I was scared of nothing. I fought older guys and beat the s--- out of them. In my street, I was the boss among the kids. I was ferocious back then. My grandfather used to call me ‘the killer' ever since because I fought older kids and made them cry. That's why when I started fighting in the ring, I kept the nickname my grandpa gave me as a child."

After adapting to life in Holland, Bahadurzada soon got restless and started looking for a new challenge.

"My mind and body were used to the threat I felt in Afghanistan, and I had the feeling that my life is nothing without danger," he says. "I've had it in my childhood, so I had to have it now as well -- otherwise my life would be boring and not challenging enough."

A friend told him that there was a martial arts gym in the nearby city of Deventer that was supposed to hold a real challenge. Bahadurzada started training at the Tatsujin Dojo in 2001, and his coach, Shooto veteran Martijn de Jong, immediately realized his innate talent. Consequently, Bahadurzada made his MMA debut a month before his 18th birthday.

The teenager soon rose up the ranks in the European Shooto circuit by combining good striking and solid submissions. However, he became increasingly frustrated to see his teammates at Golden Glory (Tatsujin Dojo is a branch of Golden Glory) like Alistair Overeem (Pictures) embark for Japan, while he wasn't allowed entry because of his origin.

Siyar finally got his chance in 2007. After winning seven of his eight fights in Shooto Holland, including a four-man tournament, he was named the No. 1 challenger for the Shooto 183-pound world championship. Shooto promoter Sustain did everything in its power to get a visa and a work permit for the young Afghan and succeeded.

Bahadurzada challenged titleholder Shikou Yamashita (Pictures) on July 15 and defeated the Japanese wrestler by unanimous decision to win the Shooto light heavyweight championship.

In the post-fight interview, he brimmed over with joy: "It feels like I was born for this belt. I have worked so hard for all those years and to finally become the champion is like a dream come true."

In the moment of triumph he also did not forget whom to thank. "I am the champion because of Martijn de Jong," Bahadurzada said. "He always believed in me. Ever since I started training, Martijn told me that one day I'm gonna be the world champion. I won this belt for my trainer today; he is my personal Cus D'Amato."

After capturing the Shooto belt, Bahadurzada did not rest on his laurels. Instead, he settled some old accounts.

In 2004, Dutchman Nathan Schouteren became one of only two fighters to beat the "Afghan Killa" on points. This defeat was such a thorn in his flesh that Bahadurzada promised to hang up his gloves for good should he lose the rematch. When the fighters met a second time, Bahadurzada finished Schouteren with a flurry of strikes near the end of the first round.

With the gold around his waist, Bahadurzada became a prospect for other promotions as well. After due consideration, he signed a contract with upstart promotion World Victory Road in December.

"My management and I agreed that WVR is the right choice for me at this stage of my career," Bahadurzada says. "HERO'S was also interested, though. I have signed for four fights with WVR and those aside, I will also be defending my Shooto title in Japan and fight in Ultimate Glory shows in Holland for my Dutch fans."

Bahadurzada will be fighting top-caliber middleweight Kazuo Misaki (Pictures) at World Victory Road's inaugural event, "Sengoku," on March 5 at the Yoyogi Gymnasium in Tokyo. Even though he is satisfied competing in Japan for the time being, Bahadurzada's ultimate goal is making it to the UFC -- a promotion he has a distinct love-hate relationship with.

"The UFC is the current superpower in MMA, but they are treating their fighters like s---," Bahadurzada says. "Who does Dana White think he is, Don Corleone? He really shouldn't have let PRIDE die in Japan. … If you are the second best show in the world and you kill the number one, you will still be the second best show.

"On the other hand, I also admire the way UFC took MMA to the next level. The sport is mainstream now, and Zuffa has done a great job at making it come so far, but at the same time I think that their fighters are not the best fighters in the world, with all due respect. I make that assertion because I want to take on any UFC fighter in my weight class and I promise you that they will not make it till the end of the fight with me."

The "Afghan Killa" goes on to put his challenge in concrete terms: "Anderson Silva is the UFC's middleweight champion. Well, I want to fight him. Let's see if he can apply his Muay Thai style on me. … I don't think so! Instead I will be the one to give him a Muay Thai lesson."

Bahadurzada also wants to fight in the United States for his compatriots.

"There are millions of Afghans across America, and one day I will fight in America for my Afghan fans," he says. "I am their hero because I fight for them, and they will support me like crazy if I fight in the USA. I receive hundreds of mails from my fans in the states every week. They all would love to see me fight in the UFC."

Beyond his confidence and his aspirations, there's another side to Bahadurzada that comes out when he's not talking about the fight game. A side so distinctive, he almost seems a different person.

"I study international business and languages at the University of Arnhem and I will be finished with my studies in June," he says. "Besides that, I help my dad with his business."

Bahadurzada is thoughtful at the conversation's end, though he has one more thing to get off his chest.

"I would like to bring the innocent children in my home country to the attention of the readers," he says. "In Afghanistan many children have died of the cold and of starvation. Please support the Bayat Foundation. This is the only organization which will bring your every cent to the people in need.

"And if you are supporting me, send me your positive energy while I'm fighting. Think positive, and it will help me knock my opponents out. You can also support me through my Web site. Every single fan who writes me gives me tons of motivation to train hard."
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